On Being Brutally Honest

By | March 22, 2016

[March 22, 2016]   I was speaking with a young man yesterday who wanted to join the U.S. Navy.  His Masters Degree in Nuclear Engineering is in high demand inside the Navy and he knows it.  Like most of us, his past is not perfect and he had been convicted for underage drinking back in undergraduate school when he was a Freshman.  My advice to him was that he must be brutally honest about it when he went to speak with the Navy recruiters.

Like some of the young folks I speak with, Jack was no exception and was skeptical by my advice.  His comment?  Why should I tell them; my arrest was a long time ago (7 to 8 years ago by my estimate).  The more I speak with young men and women in colleges and universities across the country, the more I realize they do not have a full understanding of the concept of being completely honest.

Not unlike Jack, many people believe honesty only means telling the truth about what they think is relevant.  But that is not so.  Honesty means acting straightforward and fair on everything; to never lie, cheat, or steal or tolerate those who do.  There is little gray area when it comes to being honest; either you are or you aren’t.

Jack is compelled morally to be open about his arrest but there is also a practical side too.  The Navy will check his criminal history and an underage conviction will show up.  If Jack fails to tell them, he will not be allowed to join simply because he cannot be trusted, not because of the conviction.

One of the core values of the U.S. Navy is honor.1  It is not only coded into their culture, they are required to memorize it and internalize it fully.  Naval officers strictly adhere to it because in combat being honest can mean the difference in life and death for the Sailors in their care; and they demand it of others.

There are a number of advantages to being brutally honest:

  1. Others are apt to be more honest with you.
  2. You are trusted because you don’t sugarcoat what you say and you don’t pander to people.
  3. It saves time and, in the military, can save lives.
  4. It promotes courage, discipline, and authenticity in you and others.
  5. People believe you when you tell them the harsh truth or give a compliment.
  6. It is easier for you to get things done.

Of course, there are many more advantages but you get the idea.  While brutal honesty can sometimes be very difficult, it does get easier over time when practiced everyday.  Why honesty is not openly taught throughout our school systems is a mystery.  Honesty is required in all institutions and, honestly, it’s good for the soul.  What will Jack do?

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  1. Honor: “I will bear true faith and allegiance …” Accordingly, we will: Conduct ourselves in the highest ethical manner in all relationships with peers, superiors and subordinates; Be honest and truthful in our dealings with each other, and with those outside the Navy; Be willing to make honest recommendations and accept those of junior personnel; Encourage new ideas and deliver the bad news, even when it is unpopular; Abide by an uncompromising code of integrity, taking responsibility for our actions and keeping our word; Fulfill or exceed our legal and ethical responsibilities in our public and personal lives twenty-four hours a day. Illegal or improper behavior or even the appearance of such behavior will not be tolerated. We are accountable for our professional and personal behavior. We will be mindful of the privilege to serve our fellow Americans.  See it at: http://www.navy.mil/navydata/nav_legacy.asp?id=193




Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.